BWW Review: CAVEMAN PLAY at Z Below
Caveman Play explores the moment when we decided to switch from hunter/gatherers to agrarians with all its future complications for society...
Small theatre troupes like Faultline often have to think outside the box, specifically the small jewel-box venues they inhabit. In the case of Savannah Reich's Caveman Play, they're thinking outside the cave where hunter's and gatherers felt safe for eons before making the choice to venture out and discover new concepts. The introduction of one such major societal breakthrough sets the comic stage for an interactive dialectic on just how wise that decision was and its effect on humans today.
Rocky (Conrad Cheeks) and Dandelion (Amitis Rossoukh) are the first cave-people to adopt agriculture, and they've invited their fellow nomadic hunters (the audience) for a pitch meeting, hoping to sell their friends on their fantastic new idea. She opens her presentation by posing a set of emotional response queries; raise your hand if you feel incomplete, if you feel hopeless, etc. Her answer to all our problems - agriculture, and she's selling it hard. The pro's: clothes, shelter and monogamy. Rocky however, isn't quite as excited as Dandelion. His cons: 12-hour labor days, no spontaneous swimming at the local water hole or just lounging around waiting for a kill.
His reservations throw Dandelion off her game, especially when the local shaman Chicken Feathers (Nic A. Sommerfield) interrupts the proceedings with an opposing viewpoint. Agriculture is bad indeed and according to prophecy, leads to fast food, shoelaces, cancer and sticky popcorn kernels on the floor of movie theatres. Tensions run high and a face-off over the two lifestyles includes some fun interactive devices like an old-fashioned carousel slide show and the collecting of audience responses as to what scares us and makes us sad.
Added into the absurd historical re-imagining is Douglas, the first domesticated animal, a keyboard playing Tiger (Cole Ferraiuolo) who seems nonchalant about the proceedings yet offers advise to Rocky about cost-benefit analysis of working for your food or being fed. While Chicken Feathers and Dandelion prepare for their final arguments, Douglas slowly reads the audience cards to a cheesy Casio track. Our anxieties are meant to represent the effects of modern society on our psyches and I assume that is one of the points Reich is trying to make here.
All of this is set in a realistic cave, adorned with stalagmites, foliage, fur covered stumps and a bonfire for warmth crafted by scenic designer Mary Naughton and wonderfully lit by Maxx Kurzunski. Dandelion makes her final plea: life's gonna be hard and complicated, but the struggles are what matter. She's looking forward to bread, libraries and trains - the progress that comes from cooperation and yes, agriculture. All that's left is for the audience vote - stay hunter/gatherer or grow cherry tomatoes? The show ends with a video of modern-day Rocky, Dandelion and Douglas in urban America going about their business. Douglas plays with a giant ball of string while the couple go through the motions of their daily routine.
Caveman Play has some interesting elements and the actors do their best with the material, mining laughs through their physical comedy and sheer exasperation at having to be a part of such a momentous life decision. Audience interaction shows can be tricky, it puts a burden of participation that can make some feel uncomfortable. It's a gamble that pays off for this show fortunately. Reich asks us to decide what we would choose, given what we know and what we feel, about humanities path, but doesn't really offer an option out of our current situation. There's no going back to caveman days, we've got agribusiness and plenty of food, plenty of problems, but so what? No answers given, but a lot of quirky fun along the ride.
Caveman Play runs through July 20th at Z Below, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco, CA. Tickets available at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (415) 626-0453.
Photos by Taylor Steinbeck.